U.S. 221 projects on hold
All projects related to the expansion of U.S. 221 in Rutherford County have been placed on hold.
Due to legislation signed into law in 2013, all transportation projects in the state fall under new guidelines used to determine which projects are funded and when.
Karyl Fuller with Isothermal Planning and Development said the new guidelines use different formulas to determine how the state’s transportation funding is distributed.
“This changed how we do transportation funding in North Carolina,” Fuller said. “We had formulas and that has gone away. Now we have one big pot.”
The new Strategic Transportation Investment (STI) breaks projects into three categories: statewide mobility, regional impact and division needs. Statewide projects include Interstates while regional mobility projects include projects not making the cut in the statewide category. Division projects are broken down by the state’s transportation divisions as well as projects not funded in the state or regional categories.
“The biggest thing coming out of this is that there are three tiers of data: statewide, regional and divisional,” Fuller said. “U.S. 74 is considered statewide but U.S. 64 is considered regional.”
The new methodology breaks down the state’s funding with 40 percent ($6 billion) going to state-qualified projects, 30 percent ($4.5 billion) going to regional projects and the remaining money going to divisional projects. Fuller said the divisional projects also include airport, rail and bike/pedestrian projects.
Rutherford County has 15 projects listed on the divisional list which include four projects at the Rutherford County Airport and six projects regarding U.S. 221 and U.S. 74 which originated on the statewide list but filtered down because they were not funded in either the state or regional category. There are two bike/pedestrian projects on the divisional list.
Additionally, there are six projects (five for U.S. 221 and one upgrading U.S. 74) still on the regional list. One of those projects on the regional list is the construction of multi-lanes for the U.S. 221 bypass in Rutherfordton.
To be considered for funding on the division or regional list, each rural planning organization (RPO) and metropolitan planning organization (MPO) can give points to a particular project. Those points are added up on the state level and projects are ranked based on the amount of points they receive. Top projects receive funding while those ranked lower are less likely to receive state funding.
The North Carolina Department of Transportation released the scores of all projects in May and those have to be finalized in August.
Fuller said the 74 corridor project from Wilmington to Tennessee — through Rutherford County — scored high, just below projects involving three other Interstates in North Carolina.
But, the concern now is that expansion of U.S. 221 — including various widening at multi-lane construction — in Rutherford County have been put on hold, at least until next summer.
“There is some concern about U.S. 221 because it isn’t on the corridor list,” said Carl Classen, Rutherford County manager. “It has been moved off all lists for funding and we need to get it back on the list, if not statewide perhaps on the regional list.”
Of those projects being funded under the statewide list, Wake County received funding for 18 projects which cost 34 percent of the total statewide funding, or $981 million. Mecklenburg County will have eight projects funded which receive 17 percent of the total statewide funding package, or $491 million.
“Of the 20 counties that are the least distressed, 78 percent of the money went to those counties,” Fuller said.
County officials are concerned the funding represents a shift from more equitable funding to spending more state money in metropolitan areas.
“I’m frustrated and it is a complex issue,” Classen said. “We need to talk to legislators and members of the transportation board and let them know our frustration in this money being diverted away from the rural areas.”
Fuller said North Carolina Department of Transportation Division 13 — which includes Rutherford County — will hold a public hearing to discuss the allocation of the division’s input points on July 13.
“We can donate points, for example there has been talk about donating some of our points to the Shelby bypass because of our interest in that project,” Fuller said.